I press my hand to the steel curtain--
chainlink fence crowned with rolled barbed wire--
rippling from the sea where Tijuana touches San Diego
unrolling over mountains
this "Tortilla Curtain" turning into el rio Grande
flowing down to the flatlands
of the Magic Valley of South Texas
its mouth emptying into the Gulf.
1,950 mile-long open wound
dividing a pueblo, a culture,
running down the length of my body,
staking fence rods in my flesh,
splits me splits me
me raja me raja
This is my home
this thin edge of
We're all split, separated, divided, defined, limited, ordered by the boundaries we live on, by the borders that run, barbed and dangerous, through our psyches and our physical circumstances.
Anzaldua gets here at something Lyn and I are trying to think through for a paper we'll deliver at the next meeting of the Western Historical Society. A couple of paragraphs from our proposal:
Amy Irvine, in her memoire Trespass (North Point Press, 2008), tells of coming on a shocking scene in southern Utah: “Strung across the fence is a dead coyote. Blood drips from a fresh wound, blooms like a red Oriental poppy in the snow. . . . We climb over the fence and then lift the coyote off the barbed wire.”
Near the end of her 1998 story “Brokeback Mountain,” Annie Proulx writes: “In the end the stud duck refused to let Jack’s ashes go. ‘Tell you what, we got a family plot and he’s goin in it. . . .’ Bumping down the washboard road Ennis passed the country cemetery fenced with sagging sheep wire, a tiny fenced square on the welling prairie. . . .”
And finally, also in 1998, Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a rail fence, and left to die outside Laramie. Laramie residents denied that their town is a homophobic place. We live and let live here, they kept saying, a western mantra that rings true until you bring homosexuals into the equation.
Barbed wire is a sometimes vicious alternative to the open range Proulx and Irvine offer in contrast. Our paper will explore the living and letting live, the fencing in and the fencing out, the practice of stringing up trophies as threats, and the depictions of such practices that can either reinforce them or unmask them.
[photo of a pronghorn leg caught in barbed wire by Ben Abbott]